While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2.6-7)
‘I’ve tried to busy myself around the house and Joachim keeps telling me they’ll be alright. But I can’t stop thinking about my Mary, so far away, all on her own. I know she has Joseph with her, but this is a time for a girl to be with her mother and with the other women. We know what to do. But what does he know, he’s a carpenter not a physician and so many things can go wrong. I wonder where they are. I wonder if she’s ok. I wonder if the baby’s been born. I wonder ….’
‘I’ve never heard such singing. We all turned out angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Those poor shepherds. Scared out of their wits at first but there was one who listened and made the others come back and hear what we had to say and what we sang. Who’d have thought that such tough men could be so frightened by a group of singing angels! But as I told you before we have this habit of just, well, being there, unannounced. But we were so full of joy – a new king, a new baby, peace on earth, good will amongst all people. There was so much to sing about.’
‘It feels like I’m in a dream. The journey was awful. I thought it would be difficult but in fact it was worse than I could imagine. I thought after making the same journey a few months ago, there and back to see Elizabeth that it would be the same. But it wasn’t. It was colder, the road seemed harder and I knew that at any moment my baby could be born. But Joseph was so lovely. Being together like this has meant that we’ve had the chance to really get to know each other. What a gentle man. What a kind man. I’ve been blessing God that my Father found me such a husband. He kept on saying, ‘just around the corner, just over the next hill, we can almost see it’. In the end we laughed every time he said something like that – but you know that made the journey that little bit easier.
And when we finally saw Bethlehem – well, we both almost cried. But neither of us had imagined what we’d find when we walked into the town. The place was full of people and as we went up and town every street, at every place there was a sign saying, ‘Full’, ‘No room’. I kept asking, ‘what are we going to do?’ But Joseph kept saying ‘The Lord will provide.’ And the Lord did provide.
To be honest I wasn’t bothered in the end where we stayed – I just needed to be able to lie down. And within a short time the baby came and I held him in my arms – and wept for joy. It feels like a dream, but this is real, and God is with us.’
‘I think it was the worst journey I’d ever made. You know that I was backwards and forwards from Nazareth to Sepphoris so its not that I’m unused to travelling but this was so much worse than any daily commute! For a start off it’s a long way, and it was getting colder, and Mary was so uncomfortable. But I did what I could to encourage her.
What a nightmare when we arrived. I hadn’t really thought about that bit, and anyway what could I have done? But with everyone on the move and us arriving quite late at night every inn was full. Mary looked exhausted as she sat on the back of the donkey. I knocked on each door just to get the same response ‘Full’, ‘Full’, ‘Full’. ‘But look at my wife’ I said, ‘She’s going to have a baby.’ ‘Full’.
It felt as though it was the last chance, the final door. ‘The Lord will provide’ I said to her. The innkeeper came to the door. I could see his wife behind him, shaking her head but looking concerned. ‘Full’ he said. Then he looked at us. ‘But there is the stable beneath the house and I cleaned it out and it’s fresh and you can use that if you want. It’s not great but …’ ‘The Lord bless you and keep you.’ I said. He took a light and showed us in. ‘Is it ok if we bring our donkey in as well?’ ‘Well… ok’ he said.
Then he was gone. Mary lay down. I was unpacking what the donkey had been carrying. And then I heard her, Mary cried out and I ran to her. The baby was coming. I had no idea what to do. This all happened away from men, the women looked after it. ‘Hang on’ I said and ran to the top of the house. Although she’d shaken her head I knew the Innkeeper’s wife was kind. ‘Please’ I said ‘my wife. We need you.’
She grabbed a pot of water off the fire and some cloth and followed me. Like those great women at the birth of Moses, Shiphrah and Puah, she helped the baby to emerge into that dark night. Mary gasped, the baby cried. ‘It’s a boy’ cried the Innkeeper’s wife ‘Congratulations!’. But we knew it was a boy. The angel had told us.’
The Donkey says
‘The last few miles were the worst and Mary seemed to get heavier and heavier. But I took it gently and slowly and my Master was kind. When we arrived at Bethlehem we went from house to house and that seemed to make me more tired than the journey.
At last he found somewhere and somewhere we could be together. It’d been the three of us for so long, night and day and I wanted to stay with them and not be put with some Judean donkeys I knew nothing of (they’re not like Galilean donkey’s – much more trouble). But as luck would have it we ended up in a stable and so, of course, I could stay. Someone had put fresh straw down and there was hay. There was an old ox in the corner but he just sat there, chewing away, as they do, nothing to say, as always seems to be the case.
I drank some water and ate something and then my Master ran out and ran back with a strange woman and everything seemed to be happening. Then a baby cried and I looked up and the ox looked up and we saw Jesus. We saw Jesus.’
The Innkeeper says
‘I told you how busy it was getting – well it got worse. Everywhere there were people, a knock came at the door all the time. ‘Tell them we’re full’ said my wife. And so I did. It was getting late and we were getting ready for bed. The guests were all back, some had rolled in after having a drink and they were snoring away. Just some water to boil so that it would be sweet for the morning and then we could turn in.
Another knock. ‘Not now, not so late’ said my wife ‘get rid of them.’ I opened the door. There was a man with a very young girl. She was on the back of a donkey. All three of them looked exhausted. ‘Please’ said the man. ‘We’re full’ I said. Then I looked at them and all of a sudden I thought of that story of Abraham and Sarah entertaining those three angels. I know one of this group was a donkey, but that was such a story of hospitality. ‘We have a stable’ I said.
The man looked delighted. So I took them into it and though I hadn’t let any other donkeys in I led all three of them. ‘That’ll be fine’ said the man. The girl said nothing. So I left them. It wasn’t much later when there was another bang on the door. ‘What now?’ said my wife. It was the man. ‘Please’ he said ‘My wife. We need you.’ My wife grabbed a few things and ran down. I kept out the way.
When she came back she said it was a boy. Mother and baby were doing well. But she was surprised that they weren’t surprised it was a boy. Strange. We went to sleep.
The Shepherd says
‘I’d been thinking, looking and thinking. I’d been watching that star I told you about. The other guys said I was imagining it, that all that thinking was playing tricks with my head. But I’d swear on the Holy Scriptures that it had come nearer, that it was now overhead.
But I was brought back to earth with a bump when suddenly where there’d just been stars the whole sky became alive with light and the silence was broken by what sounded like the most amazing singing. And it wasn’t just me, the others saw and heard it as well. I’m ashamed to tell you that my first reaction was to run. We were all terrified, but something kept us there and that was when we heard it, that a baby had been born, the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord. They said it was good news, I thought it was great news.
As quickly as they’d appeared the sky was back to normal except for that one big star which was now seeming to light up the whole countryside. ‘What are we waiting for?’ said the chief shepherd ‘Let’s go and see if what we’ve heard is true.’ He grabbed his stick, I grabbed my pipes, another grabbed a lamb (well even shepherds don’t go visiting without a gift) and we ran down the hill.
To be honest I didn’t quite know what to expect. When we found the place, and it wasn’t hard because the star was illuminating the spot, we went in. It was a stable, like the stables every home had. There was nothing grand at all about it, just a stable and what we found there was just a baby – like my little brother when he was born.
Except ….. it’s made me think. It was ordinary and it was extraordinary. I felt a kind of peace in that place that’s indescribable – we all did – and we all knelt, there, in the straw. What a sight we must have been, the young girl, the older man, a donkey and an ox, the innkeeper and his wife who’d heard us arrive – and there in the middle, the centre of attention, the baby. What a scene, what a night, what a nativity.
And Jesus says nothing but is the Word that God speaks to the waiting world.
Lord Jesus Christ,
your birth at Bethlehem
draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth:
accept our heartfelt praise
as we worship you,
our Saviour and our eternal God.